California Senate Passes Bill Requiring Smartphone Kill Switches

ThievesCalifornia moved a step closer to requiring smartphones sold in the state to be remotely wiped and killed if they're stolen. A similar bill failed to pass in April, but according to Bloomberg, the new version was crafted to allow companies more time to implement the kill switch and to remove tablets from the requirement.

This is just the first step in the bill becoming law—it would have to also pass the California Assembly and be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown or his successor (likely to be Jerry Brown, for those keeping score at home).

The new bill would require remote kill capability starting in July of 2015, six months later than the bill that was defeated under intense lobbying from smartphone makers including Apple and Samsung. Apple dropped its resistance to the new bill, and lo! It passed.

California has the 8th largest economy in the world. That gives the state a disproportionate amount of influence when it comes to regulating industries and the environment, especially when those regulations are more strict than federal regulations.

So important are sales in the states to most large companies, they find it easier to meet California regulations around the rest of the country than not. An exception to this rule of thumb is the auto industry, where cars sold inside the state meet stricter emissions requirements than cars sold in other states.

The issue with smartphones is theft, where owners of the device are frequently targeted for mugging, especially in large cities. In New York City and San Francisco, this is a tremendous problem, with smartphone thefts accounting for as much as 60 percent of robberies.

The vast majority of those thefts are iPhones because used iPhones have far higher resale values than Android devices.

This is a big issue for law enforcement, and various and sundry law enforcement lobbying groups have been pushing for remote kill switch technology for years. The idea is that if a stolen iPhone becomes a brick, it will therefore be useless to the thief on the used market.

In April, after the original bill failed in California, ten smartphone makers agreed to voluntarily include remote kill switches by 2015. Mark Leno (D), the sponsor of the new bill, called the voluntary agreement "inadequate."

Note that Apple already has a remote kill switch available to iPhone owners with iCloud accounts. It currently requires customers to opt-in and download an app. The California bill makes the feature mandatory. Still, it will be relatively easy for Apple to implement the kill switch compared to its competitors because it already has the infrastructure in place.